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Plant Roots Broken: The Facts and What you should do


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The root is an essential organ of a plant that absorbs nutrients, water, and oxygen which is used for healthy plant growth. 

When roots are broken the absorption of these essential elements can be limited causing the plant to go into shock or even die.

A plant can easily suffer broken roots during repotting or transplanting when they are exposed to the elements. Plants can go into a state of shock as damaged roots restrict the absorption of elements necessary for healthy growth. This shock can be temporary but if more than 50% of the roots are broken, the plant may not survive.

There are some necessary things you need to do to bring the plant back to a healthy state if its roots were broken and they are easily achievable

Read on as we coach you on everything we know about keeping a plant alive after its roots are broken.

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Can a Plant Regrow its Roots?

Well, it depends on the roots and condition of plants. If the damaged roots are few and the plant is healthy and has reserved energy, plants can regrow their roots under normal conditions. But all plants are not able to do so.

Cross Section of a Root (3)

Will a Plant Survive if its Roots are Broken?

Usually, if plant roots get damaged or torn away, there are two possibilities:

The Positive: 

If few roots are broken, there are 95 percent chances that the plant can survive. However, you must take good care of the plant if it has lost 50% of its roots. 

Without roots or with the absence of few roots, there are chances that plants may fall to the side because roots help in the anchorage of plants. 

If the plant has few roots left, it will also try to compensate for its mineral and water deficiency through the remaining roots and build the roots that were torn away or damaged due to any cause. 

Surprisingly, some plants can survive even without having roots—for instance, some types of algae (giant kelps). 

If you are extra possessive of your plant health, just give a little extra attention to your plant until it regrows its roots.

The Negative:

Some plants also exist in the kingdom Plantae, which show adverse effects if their roots get damaged or torn away due to any cause. 

The shoots and branches of such plants die eventually. Furthermore, the plant becomes weak and, in some cases, cannot support itself.

The growth stops, not enough nutrients, and water reaches the plant, which eventually leads to the death of the plant. In addition, the plant often falls to that side, where the roots are damaged.

Types of Root Systems:

From observations of many plants, it has been established that two types of root systems exist:

  • Taproot system
  • Adventitious root system (fibrous root system)

Taproot System: 

Dicots have this type of root system; dicots are also known as dicotyledons. In this system, the main root grows downward, which gives rise to many small hair-like roots. The roots of such a system penetrate deep down in the soil. 

The taproot system is seen in various plants like dandelions, carrots, turnips, etc. It is observed that in turnips and carrots, taproot also assists the function of food storage. 

Fibrous Root System: 

This type of system is often seen in monocots. In a fibrous root system, the roots form a dense network near the soil surface and help in preventing soil erosion. 

In this root system, no secondary roots arise from the main root. Instead, many secondary roots arise from the bottom of the stem. 

For example: 

  • Rice (Oryza sativa)
  • Wheat (Triticum)
  • Barley (Hordeum vulgare)

Interestingly, in the kingdom Plantae, some plants also exist which have both taproot systems and fibrous root systems.

Removing soil from roots when repotting

How Long will a Plant Survive with Damaged Roots?

The length of time a plant can survive with damaged roots depends on the extent of the damage and root loss. If more than 50% of a plant’s root is damaged, the plant will survive up to 5 days if not further care is taken to help revive the plant.

Plants need roots to absorb nutrients and water from the soil. This is done by the smaller white cuticles of roots (root hairs) that extend from the main root system. 

These white cuticles increase the root system’s surface area allowing for the maximum amount of nutrients to be absorbed. 

Rooting Hormone and How To Use it For Stronger Roots:

The hormones which are used for propagating the plants are called rooting hormones. There are different varieties of rooting hormone in the market, but the best of all is Hormex Vitamin B1 Rooting hormone

There is no doubt that rooting hormones make the root stronger and are often used when roots are propagating. 

Insert the rooting hormones right after inserting the piece of root in the soil.

If you are using powdered rooting hormone instead of the liquid, you should put the rooted cutting into the powdered hormone, shake a little and then put the root clipping in the soft soil.

Before using the hormone, read the prescription that is ready to use or still needs some changes. 

For example, it may exist as a concentrated or dilute form, which will determine how much it has to be weakened before use.

If your roots show signs of damage you can use this high-performance, water-based, rooting gel which comes at a great price on Amazon. It has a full spectrum of mineral nutrients which promotes root growth.
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HydroDynamics Clonex Rooting Gel

How to Revive a Plant with Broken Roots?

The plant will be in a state of stress whenever its roots are broken, much less for adapting to a new environment.

Stress in plants refers to external conditions that adversely affect the growth, development, or productivity of plants.

Stresses triggers a wide range of plant responses like altered gene expression, cellular metabolism, and changes in growth rates.

Therefore, extra care must be taken not to increase the stress level for the plant further in order to help it revive quickly.

A plant with broken roots can be revived by firstly removing any dead or yellowing leaves from the foliage. This reduces the number of nutrients the plant would require and would demand less from the damaged root system.

Normally roots are broken during the transplanting process and the plant should be replanted in nutrient-rich soil which has the right amount of amendments for optimal drainage and aeration.

In some other cases, as when transporting and shipping plants, the roots can be shaken to an extent that they can be broken.

When transplanting roots will get damaged especially if the plant has been rootbound. With damaged roots, a plant will survive indefinitely as long as the main root system is not damaged. These are the thicker, more established roots on the plant.

As discussed, most root damage occurs during transplanting and using safe transplanting practices as we will discuss next.

How To Prevent Root Damage When Repotting

Repotting a new plant

Repotting doesn’t only mean changing the pot of the plant; it means changing the potting mix or plant soil – introducing your plant to a whole new environment. 

Repotting a plant is a difficult nut to crack. Especially, when it comes to the roots that should remain intact while transporting from one pot to another. 

Keep in mind that you should water your plant the day before you are planning to re-pot it.

Doing this will help in softening the soil surrounding roots of the plant and it will come out easily without causing any root damage.

Following is a perfect method that guarantees you that your roots will remain intact while transporting them to another pot.

Things You’ll Need: 

  • Watering spray or can
  • Scissors
  • Newspaper for quick cleanup
  • Mix potting
  • Planter; old or new
  • New Potting mix
  • And your plant, definitely

Step one:

Pour the fresh potting mix (should contain moisture) in the new plant pot in which you are going to re-pot your plant.

Step two:

Now very carefully hold your plant and take it out by holding its stems, followed by slightly tapping the base of the plant’s container until the plant comes out along with its compacted roots.

Step three:

If you notice that your plant’s roots are tightly bounded in circles around the bottom of the container. You can gently trim them or try to unbind them with your hands.

Step four:

Try to remove about one-third of the potting mix from the plant roots.

Step five:

Add the new potting mix to the planter. And then put your plant in the plant pot in which you are going to transport it. Don’t put too much potting mix in the planter because doing so will suffocate the plant roots.

Step six:

Even the potting mix in the planter, and you are all set. Make sure that drain holes are present in the pot for better drainage.

Will Damaged Roots Heal and Grow back?

Roots will regrow if damaged or severed. The uptake of water and nutrients is restricted, reducing growth. However, the new growth will not continue in the same direction that it was growing. 

Instead, new roots will grow from the part that was not broken or damaged like a branch of a tree.

Cell division will continue to occur in the new roots, but you will have to give the plant time to adapt and rehabilitate itself.

Can the Removal of Aerial Roots Harm a plant?

Aerial roots are roots that grow on the above-ground parts of a plant. Aerial roots on woody vines function as anchors, affixing the plant to supporting structures such as rocks, and walls.

Some types of aerial roots also absorb moisture and nutrients, just like underground roots.

Plants like monstera deliciosa produce aerial roots in addition to roots in the soil for support as they grow. 

If the aerial roots from your Monstera Deliciosa are broken or removed, it will not damage the plant and the roots will grow back in no time.

Additionally, aerial roots on indoor philodendrons aren’t really necessary and you can snip them if you find them unsightly.

How Long can Plant Roots be Exposed?

Plants can survive between 1 to 10 days out of the soil before it starts to show signs of stress.

The length of time a plant will survive also depends on the type of plant in question. 

Plants that store food in their roots, as opposed to thin, fibrous roots, can last longer out of soil.

Succulents, Air plants, and Orchids are low water tolerant plants and can survive for very weeks without water and soil.

The Takeaway:

To conclude, if a few roots are damaged, then there is a possibility that your plant can survive and can reconstruct the damaged roots. 

However, if more than 50% of roots are damaged, then the plant can have a slim chance of recovery. 

Larger plants will show greater symptoms and are also harder to revive from the trauma of having its roots broken.

JayLea

JayLea has a passion for plants and has been gardening since 2015. He has valuable knowledge about gardening and houseplant care and can answer everyday practical questions that every plant owner has.

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